Temple of Confucius

To start our November on a high note, we visited Beijing’s Temple of Confucius on an aptly crisp, autumn afternoon.  The Temple of Confucius is a local where people paid homage to the great thinker educator during the Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644), and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties. It also served as a testing site for the imperial examination held prior to the end of the Qing Dynasty. The temple was built in 1302 and additions were made during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. This temple in Beijing is the second largest temple in China constructed for Confucius.  Architecturally speaking, the temple consists of four courtyards each with similarly beautiful and exquisite carvings of the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties. The blue skies, yellow leaves, and blue birds of autumn accentuated the picturesque scene as we traversed the temple. What a beautiful place kept well preserved for hundreds of years. The dense history of the Temple of Confucius was palpable when approaching row upon row of 198 stone tablets each engraved with hundreds of names of Jinshi – the advanced scholars of the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties.  Exactly 51,624 names are showcased to this day, honoring the men who studied the ways of Confucius and achieved this high honor.

Watch Out! It’s the “Touch Evil Cypress.” – The Temple of Confucius 2018

Not far from these tablets stands a gnarled, ancient evergreen called the “Touch Evil Cypress.” It was explained by our tour guide  that the name of this 700 year old “Chujian Bai” is associated with an ancient legend: during the Ming Dynasty, an official by the name of Yan Song came to worship the cypress the when one the branches of the tree fell and almost crushed him. Since Yan Song was known to be corrupt, the tree seemed to know his fate. People came to believe that the ancient cypress could distinguish between those who are good and those who are evil; hence the name, “Touch Evil Cypress.”

To end our time at the Temple of Confucius, we had the opportunity to witness a dance performance inspired by the students of Confucius. Young men and women dressed in clothing of the Qing Dynasty danced to music of the time. Although the movements were simple, the uniform grace and style, not to mention the majesty of the dancer’s red and blue attire, made the five-minute performance quite a spectacle. As a modern dancer on campus, I have to say that I received some inspiration from the performance. It is clear that Confucius continues to teach and inspire to this day, even through the art of dance.

北京:Wangfujing

All of this travel through China has been awesome. Every city has a unique personality and millennia of history makes them fun to visit. Of the cities I’ve been, Beijing has my heart. For me, what makes the city so great is how lively the culture is. Before my first Beijing visit, I was expecting the capital to be serious with a business first mentality. I was very wrong. Through travel, spending the summer in Beijing, and our short time in the city I learned to appreciate every playful gesture, photograph, and invitation to eat Beijing duck that I’ve ever received. Our visit made it clear that Beijing’s liveliness truly mirrored the rest of the China, and at its core, no place did that better than Wangfujing.

Although we never made an official trip to Wangfujing, our hotel was mighty close. It was also the first time I’ve been to Beijing without my weather app notifying me that my skin will burn within my first 10 minutes outside. Also, the President of the Dominican Republic was in town, so we ran into some smog-less sightseeing. From that point on, I knew autumn in Beijing was something special.

With that, we wasted no time on our journey to Wangfujing. I had been many times, but the street never loses its luster — watching the reaction of a friend who has never witnessed so many people casually eat squid on a stick and listen to great music will always be priceless. I spent the summer in Beijing so I had been to Wangfujing more times than I remember. I wasn’t expecting to be blown away once more. However, I’m thankful this trip was geared toward understanding the cities development through the ages. As a tourist, student, and eventually someone hungry for scorpion on a stick, my previous visits to Wangfujing ignored its history and how far the street has come. S/o to the Davidson in China program for encouraging us to do more than just eat the snacks. From that point of view, I was very blown away.

As Westerners and students abroad, Wangfujing is so foreign compared to anything we’ve ever seen — that’s what makes it so great. The crowdedness, singing, face painting, and gimmicks designed to get you to buy sticked-scorpion make for a great day.

If you were hoping this blog post would be a food review: 4/5. Acquired taste.

Shaolin Kung Fu Show in the Beijing Red Theatre

After traveling around Houhai in Beijing, we were treated to a kung fu show based off the famous Shaolin Temple. Thankfully, the tickets were relatively cheap with the price of about 160¥ per person, which is about $23. Before we were allowed to enter the theatre, we were greeted by a young boy sitting pretzeled-style with two wooden sticks that every so often he would bang against the bell in front of him. To say he greeted us was an understatement because during the times he was not ringing the bell he would stare intensively past everyone crowding around him, never uttering a word. Once 30 minutes had passed all 19 of us were ushered into the theatre by our wonderful tour guide William the first. Luckily, we were able to snag seats very close to the stage!

The whole show was beautiful and engaging. It told the story of kung fu while demonstrating the countless abilities a kung fu student obtains while studying at the Shaolin Temple. My favorite scene would have to be when the couple had a whole section of the show used to display their intimate feelings for one another. This was an important part within the show because it was the catalyst for the turning point for the main character. Additionally, the colors and the way the actors utilized the stage was absolutely captivating! Aside from the romance scene, there were times when I was cringing and wishing for the show to end. This would happen when one of the students would place himself atop a spear with his bare belly and spin around on it. Before the student would perform the stunt they would use fruits or some other prop to prove that the spear could actually puncture him. Other than moments like that, the show is definitely an activity that you should do when visiting Beijing.

Just in case this description was not enticing enough, I have provided a link for reviews and a trailer of the show. Personally, I have always loved watching kung fu movies like the Ip Man series and The Grandmaster, so being able to see kung fu transition from a screen into a show was amazing. Just from watching the show you can begin to understand the hard work that the kung fu students must endure during their day-to-day training. Besides the actors and actresses, the props that they use are incredible! Their ability to morph the stage into any type of environment is mesmerizing. Whether they are displaying the inside of the Shaolin Temple or the training grounds, you feel as though you are a part of the show rather than a spectator. The only negative comment I have is that I wished they served regular popcorn rather than caramel or vanilla. The Shaolin Kung Fu show is a must see when visiting Beijing!

The Last of Beijing’s Hutongs

My first experience in China was for a two-month internship with the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing. Knowing that I would be somewhat overwhelmed as a nineteen-year old, on my own in China, with a second-grader’s proficiency in Chinese, I chose to live in an Airbnb in an expat area called Sanlitun. It had all of the comforts I’d feared would be missing from my summer in China—H&M, an English-language bookstore, pizza. It was unexpectedly easy-living. But after two weeks in what was essentially New York, I decided it was time to graduate and experience what I thought was the real China.

Using Airbnb once again, I found a heavily-refurbished lofted hutong 胡同 apartment. I chose to stay hutong after reading about the historic courtyard residences in a book about an American-born Chinese woman coming to China for the first time and staying with her Beijing relatives in their vast courtyard property. I would soon learn from curiously peering into neighbors’ windows and from reading a very different book about hutongs, Michael Meyer’s The Last Days of Old Beijing, that hutongs had lost their luster. My Airbnb hutong was nothing like the homes of most Beijing hutong-dwellers.

Flash forward to last week, when our Davidson in China group traveled to Beijing, and one of our activities was a tour of a hutong neighborhood. Our tour guide prefaced this tour by saying that hutongs were once a symbol of grassroots Beijing upper-class lifestyle that existed outside of the imperial city, but are now seen as a symbol of national shame. Most hutongs today accommodate multiple families, and do not have modern heating or plumbing. According to our guide, most have been poorly maintained and expanded, often with whatever building scraps residents have found. Over the past decade, as China seeks to earn its reputation as an advanced and modern nation, the CCP sees hutongs as a stain on its image. Many have been torn down and what maintenance is performed is not done with preservation and restoration in mind.

Despite the party’s view of hutongs, they are still an object of fascination for many tourists. As Beijing begins to look more and more like the cities of the developed world, and wide roads and skyscrapers replace courtyard homes and alleyways, hutongs present tourists with the quintessence of China that they’ve read about in books and seen in movies.

Temple of Heaven

We arrived at the Temple of Heaven on a clear, crisp day in autumn. It was that perfect temperature where you could wear anything from short sleeves to a Burberry coat comfortably (as shown below in a photo). Tai chi Master Luo greeted us after we entered the park. After lining up in two horizontal lines, all facing the Master, we first learned how to properly greet your master with a bow. Afterwards, we all attempted to mimic her fluid movement. It did not seem like it was going to be that hard of a task; however, her years of practice trumped our youthfulness. I cannot speak for everyone, but even the parts I could follow, I felt like a baby deer struggling for footing. Overall, it was a fantastic experience that provided us with some insight into the martial art many elderly Chinese partake in every day.

Tai chi with Master Luo (looks like Dragon Ball Z)

After Tai chi, we walked  up and around the Temple of Heaven Park. For some background, the imperial complex was first built in the early 1400s. The intricately colored and crafted buildings cover just over one square mile. The circular temple in the middle is perched on a few layers of marble to give the illusion of it resting of clouds. All of us had time to explore the first grouping of buildings; but, given that most of the information was in Chinese, everything had to be processed visually.

The Main Temple

After looking around the main part of the Temple of Heaven Park, we walked down the very long path connecting the temple with another part of the complex. The path was perfectly smooth; however, there was about a 6 foot decline over the course of a few hundred meters. This spoke to me, as it was just another example of how technical Chinese architects could be hundreds of years ago. At the end of the path, there was a second temple. There was a a circular wall around this temple, so supposedly on a quiet day you can hear someone talking into the other side of it. It was pretty crowded when we were there, so Bradford and I just found ourselves yelling at separate sections of a the wall like madmen…

The long pathway between temples

The bottom temple

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The park was beautiful and was complemented with amazing whether. We couldn’t have asked for a better day to see another historical site in Beijing!

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